Thinking things through: kadkadua

In one of my brief forays into twitter yesterday, Corey Alexander tweeted out a link called: A Colonized Ally Meets a Decolonized Ally: This is what they learn.

I found myself reflecting on the word ally and what that word means. As I think on it, I find myself more and more disinclined to use the word ally. I don’t doubt that there are people who will tell me that I just don’t understand because English, but I want to think in terms that are rooted more in my own culture. I want to look deeper and find the words that are more meaningful to me and which I can use to refer to companions in my journey.

In recent work, I have used the word kadkadua, which is the Ilocano word for comrade and while the word comrade is a loaded word for some, I find myself thinking that it is a more human word than ally.

Where allyship is connected to causes, comradeship (in the sense of kadkadua) means companionship. In the literal translations for comrade, we see the words mate and friend connected, and to me this makes a world of difference.

In fact, if I think of what kadkadua means to me, it means someone who I consider to be the same as myself. We are bonded together not just because we share a cause but because there is mutual respect, understanding and love.

In this age where social media often functions like a podium, it’s easy to forget that there are people behind names. It’s true that the digital age has brought us much in terms of advantage, but it has also contributed to a certain mindset that does not allow for mistakes to be made, that does not allow for humanity, that does not allow for weakness.

To be a true comrade means that when you fall, I will lift you up. When you fail, I will still see you as human. When you are weak, I want to be your support.

As I read the works of indigenous writers, as I study the words of the babaylan, I find myself thinking of the harm inflicted not only on the colonized but also on the colonizer.

We damage the self when we rob the other of humanity. When we narrow down our speech to causes and forget the human element, we also wound our inner self. In justifying those wounds, we become callous and hard and bitter and when we do so we lose our ability to trust and to have faith and to hope for a future.

I acknowledge that I too have spoken out in anger, in rage and frustration. That I have also had moments where I forgot that the person on the other end is human. That the other person has a heart that can be wounded. I can only apologize for not being mindful and hope to be more mindful in the future.

A tribute

I was a little girl when my father first told me about Tita Inday. Not only was a she a linguistics professor at a big university abroad, but she had also created a word.

I don’t recall now what the word was, my father probably does, but what captured my imagination was the idea that someone could bring into being a word that had not previously existed. To my child self, this idea was completely magical and mind-boggling.
I met Tita Inday for the first time when I was in highschool. She was, a tiny woman—tinier than my highschool self. She was full of light and energy, overflowing with brilliance.

At a time in my life when I was filled with complete doubt as to whether there was even any point in writing, my aunt reminded me that bringing the work into being is the point. That publication doesn’t always happen, that things will never be easy because you are a Filipino writing in this language not your own, but you still have to persevere.

I write about her as I think about translations and language, about the mother tongue, about worlds and words that come into being because she would have loved this kind of conversation where we talk about what’s possible. What can we do with language? How far can we push words? What are the politics that lie behind the use of language?

I remember visiting with my aunt at her home in Calgary, this was right after Clarion West. She asked me questions about my work and shared her own work with me as well.

Through the years, we kept in touch, sometimes through email, sometimes through phone conversations and then through the occasional message sent through my father.The last message I sent her contained a compilation of essays I’d written in the past year and a half.

Tita Inday passed away on the 26th of July. My father said, she called while he was out. She was having problems with her heart.

It’s difficult to write about such losses. As if by writing about them, they become more real. But I wanted to pay tribute to her in this space. I think of the saying “it’s in the blood” and I can’t help but acknowledge that even though I am no linguist, this fascination with words…this engagement with language…it also comes from that moment when my father said: Your aunt invented a word.

Nine Worlds schedule

Formalities being as they are. Here’s my Nine Worlds schedule.

Mythology and Fairytales: pernicious supernaturalism or meaningful exploration of existence?

Friday, 1.30pm – 2.45pm
County C&D
Where do myths and fairytales come from, and how are they influencing genre today?
Panel: Lauren Beukes, Joanne Harris, Rochita Loenen Ruiz, Aishwarya Subramanian, John Connolly

Likeable Bad Guys
Loving you is easy; explaining you is so hard
Saturday, 1.30 – 2.45
County C&D
We love to hate them, we hate to love them: from great one-liners to a sympathetic backstory, from the evil laugh to villian-fabulous fashion: what makes bad guys soooooo good?
Panel: Ed Fortune, Rochita Loenen Ruiz, Stephen Aryan, Anna Caltabiano, Den Patrick

Reading SF While Brown
Sunday, 11.45 – 1.00
For many of us, reading science fiction and fantasy was a formative experience — one that introduced new ideas, and shaped what we knew or hoped to be possible. But what imaginative leaps does a reader have to make to buy into worlds that don’t include anyone who looks or talks like them? And what impact does making that imaginative leap, time and again, ultimately have? Genre writers and readers talk about their experiences of reading SF while brown.
Guests: Aishwarya Subramanian, Taran Matharu, Camille Lofters, Rochita Loenen Ruiz

Today’s quote

“But writing in our language per se–although a necessary first step in the correct direction–will not bring about the renaissance in African cultures if that literature does not carry the content of our people’s anti-imperialist struggles to liberate their productive forces from foreign control; the content of the need for unity among the workers and peasants of all nationalities in their struggle to control the wealth they produce and to free it from internal and external parasites.”  – Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Decolonising the Mind

Thinking things through: process

I have recently been engaging more in the exploration of what narratives emerge as I make use of languages that are closer to my inner self than the English that I formally learned.

In these newer works, I am interested in exploring the traumas inflicted on the colonized body. What movements does the body go through in order to break free of those traumas? How does the colonized body find healing when it is constantly reprimanded, tokenized, devalued, objectified and still treated as a being of lesser worth?

I think of the narratives that have been attached to brown bodies and I think of how we rob these narratives of poison when we take them and make them our own. This to me, is the transformative power of story.

During the Amsterdam Sci Fi Salon, Adrienne Marie Brown reminded us of the power of the erotic and the power of desire, and I thought of narratives where the brown body’s sexuality is shamed. Where desire is labeled as sinful and unacceptable. I think of the power locked up in the shamed body. I think of what is released when we break free of those shackles and take full possession of our own skins.

It’s not that I am no longer writing in English, but that I have chosen to let the narrative take its forward motion from lines or words that I associate with home. It’s possible that this choice has no meaning to the reader, but to me who writes it, this choice reminds me that the narratives I’m writing are not of lesser worth. They are of equal value.

And if language is a thing that stands in the way, it also becomes a reminder of how the brown body is often viewed as an object that stands in the way.

Is it even science fiction anymore? I really don’t know and to be honest, I’ve stopped caring about labels as I find that labels are only useful for commercial purposes. Labels have a confining and limiting function, and more often than not they are exclusionary.

If we talk about science fiction that comes from the West, we already know what we are talking about. There are narratives that belong and there are narratives that are allowed.

But the choice to depart from what belongs and what is allowed is also a deliberate choice. It is a choice that says, what exists is not what defines me or my work. Rather it is the work that defines itself. It is a choice to embrace and move towards a different kind of envisioning the future.

What else can I write? What other things can I explore? What waits around the bend? Where is the true body of my story?

These are questions I ask as I continue on my journey.

On the question of speaking up

So, I have been told that my silence on a work that borrows another culture means that I am complicit in racism and transphobia.

I am writing today about a thing that I have wrestled with for days. Do I speak? How do I speak? Who do I speak for?

The more I thought about it, the more indecisive I became.

The truth is,  I can only ever speak for myself. No one person can speak for an entire culture or an entire race. (Also, if I have not read the finished work, how can I possibly criticque it?)

This is how I believe speaking out about appropriation works. It is not for me, the outsider to speak. My role is to listen and to support the voices of those raised in dissent. I can question it, that’s true, but I can only offer criticism from an outsider’s point of view.

The thing is,  if you believe that appropriation drowns out the voices of those from a particular culture, my speaking out rage when I am an outsider would drown out those voices that would speak from that culture. It is not on me to dictate how people in another culture should feel about a work that is written or set in their country, it is for those who read to form their own opinion of the work and speak out about it.

I wrote this in a letter. I said: “I may never be comfortable with appropriations by white writers, but I acknowledge how it is something some readers will be thankful for and which some readers will be angry about.”

If the writer has made a professional choice to publish, then I feel that the writer should also be professional enough to accept all criticism directed at the work.

It’s not that I don’t care about appropriation, but as a brown woman from a third world country, I know how it feels when outsiders speak out on my behalf. I may say, oh that’s good of you, but who are you to speak for me?

This is a thing white allies need to understand, you are still speaking from a position of privilege. For a white person dissent and rebuke and calling out holds lesser consequences than it does for a person of color. If you don’t think that’s true, then perhaps you don’t know how racism truly works. Experience has taught me that brown bodies are almost always expendable and the loss of the voices of people of color is not experienced as loss by the white majority.

I also want to remind white writers that no matter how mindfully they approach a work, when the work takes from others it is bound to be flawed.

I understand how we are angry about things like these, how we want to rage and make appropriative work disappear, but as a woman of color who has been working and looking at the field, I also know that it takes time before that happens. I can only hope for an increasing mindfulness in the way writers approach the work. (Plus controversy tends to increase sales of material we are making controversy about.)

Racism and sexism are structural problems and as long as the structure persists, we can keep calling out people. It is the structure that needs to change.

**It’s not because I don’t care to engage the work, but I am not in perfect health at the moment and I have to choose how to expend my energy.

**If people choose to speak up, then I will listen. This is how it works.

Some relevant links: 

When Defending your Writing Becomes Defending Yourself by Matthew Salesses ( in particular The Burden of Speaking Up)

10  Quotes that Perfectly Explain Racism to People who Claim to be Colorblind 

Jim Hines has collated links to excellent posts about Diversity, Appropriation and Writing the Other read those links. If you’ve read them before, read them again.

Because all work is the result of a collective

The work that I do would not be the work it is without the influence of those working and writing in my community. One of those whose work never fails to move me profoundly is the Filipino-American poet, Barbara Jane Reyes.

It feels very serendipitous to be featuring an interview with her right at this moment when I am thinking about language, decolonisation and what it means to be working in a field where we are a minority.

I hope that this interview will be an inspiration for all who read it. May we all continue to produce thought-provoking, challenging and mindful work.

An Interview with Barbara Jane Reyes is now up at the bookblog.